[mapserver-dev] Re: GeoServer superseeding MapServer in Europe?

paalkr pal.kristensen at statkart.no
Thu Jul 8 07:32:44 EDT 2010

Hi All!

Pardon me for breaking into the discussion here, but I feel like commenting
on this topic :) The discussion regarding MapServer vs GeoServer (or Deegree
for that matter) is very well present in the Norwegian Mapping Authority, so
that this issue comes up doesn't surprise me. I think one of the main
reasons that many European mapping agencies are looking at the OpenGeo stack
is because of WFS being the main focus in the INSPIRE directive and the
ESDIN project. ViewServices (WMS) is of course mentioned, but does not get
nearly as much attention as WFS.

Second, the people the leads and participate in the the governmental
processes of evaluating different solutions, does not necessarily dig under
the hood of the software and evaluates how a practical geospacial
environment and infrastructure will be operated. To some extent I think the
available documentation and feature lists of the different software packages
will be used as a basis for the evaluation process, and MapServer has no
advantage when i comes to documentation. To actually understand and evaluate
from the available documentation what MapServer is and what you can do with
MapServer, is a hard task to accomplish. 

The first impression with a software package is important. And there is no
doubt that it's easier to put up your first OGC service with GeoServer than
with MapServer. But when you try to accomplish more complex and tasks and
customize your service (and you have learned the MapFile syntax and
discovered all the "secret" features) MapServer is definitely more flexible.
But remember the there often is the GIS staff that participates in the
development of the geospatial infrastructure, especially when it comes to
putting up the OGC services. 

I think we can "blame" the structure of the MapServer documentation some of
this. If you have a look at the main doc page and the chapter "An
Introduction to MapServer" (which is intended, I think, to help users
getting started), map service (OGC services like WMS and WFS) is not eave
mentioned. The main focus is how to develop a MapServer web application and
how to develop with MapScript, and the basics of the MapFile. You have of
course the "OGC Support and Configuration documentation", but that
documentation assumes the you already have a fairly good knowledge about the
MapFile and how the CGI application works.

My hypothesis is that developing web mapping applications is NOT the main
focus for most of the people that tries MapServer for the first time, for
that purpose I think OpenLayers is a more obvious choice. I think they are
trying to find a software package to serve out some map services (for us in
OpenLayers for example), and that they know GIS well but not necessarily IT
(Apache and related stuff). And when the MapServer getting stared
docuemtnation then has a main focus of writing web mapping applications and
developing with MapServer, they just choose an easier approach for getting
their first service up and running. Maybe some use cases and a simple survey
where we track down how most users use MapServer could be useful for
organizing and structuring the documentation? Try to put yourself in this
1) I'm i GIS person that are used to work work with ESRI og Intergraph
software and know little about web technology.
2) I have heard about FOSS and how great it is, and how well it supports the
open OGS specifications.
3) I want to try and put some services that can be consumed in my desktop
ESR, intergraph or even maybe Qgis application.
4) Do some reading on the GeoServer and MapServer documentation (maybe even
look at some screen shots), and then decide which server to try out first.

In the Norwegian Mapping Authority we have taken a "split" approach, we have
chosen MapServer for our ViewSerives (WMS), GeoWebCache as tile cache server
and GeoServer and Deegree for WFS. My presentation at the FOSS4G2010 will
hopefully elaborate more on why we use MapServer, our experience with
MapServer, advanced configuration and how we built our high performance
ViewServices infrastructure. In my opinion MapServer is far superior to any
other map server when it comes to creating flexible WMS services. As I
explain in the abstract, the agency now have an average load of approx 320
000 GetMap request par day, and we have proven that MapServer scales well!
In addition to the regular GetMap request, we have all the requests from
GeoWebCache for seeding the tile cache.

Hopefully the presentation will draw some attention!

Pål Kristensen
Norwegian Mapping Authority
Manger of the Distribution Services Unit - Infrastructure


Pål Kristensen
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